Two-Year Checkup 2018

I had my two-year MRA last weekend. Another trip down to Scarborough. This time on a Saturday afternoon, which was unusual and nice. Less traffic and great parking! My choice of music was 80’s pop and the whole thing took less than 20 minutes. Bada bing, bada boom. They used a combo of ear plugs and then placed ear phones over that. So, the sound of the MRI machine was significantly muffled. Nice!

It’s amazing how your mind plays with your emotions during that period of waiting. Especially when a potential vacation could be derailed if things have changed dramatically and I was told not to fly. A lot was riding on my brain and it had been a longer stretch of time between checkups.

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So, today I finally got the results back and this report was good. Nothing had changed from two years ago and we’ll do it all again in two years. (2020!) I still have that remnant of blood getting in to the neck of my first brain aneurysm, but the fact it stayed the same is good. Do I think I’m free and clear of ever having any other issues? No, but for now…I’ll take it. And I’m glad I didn’t have to endure ANOTHER angiogram. I’ll have to go back and check out my blog to see just how many I have had since 2006.

I’m still a survivor.

Look out Scotland & Northern Ireland! Here we come!

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Seize The Day?

The Latin saying Carpe diem means seize the day or live each day to the fullest.

Do I Carpe diem? If I’m honest, no I don’t. Being a double brain aneurysm survivor, I SHOULD seize each day, but I don’t. Am I grateful? Of course, I am.  Do I wake up each morning and think “I am so grateful and blessed to be here”? No, I do not. I should…but I don’t. And those people who say they DO wake up each morning and actually think about how blessed they are, the skeptic in me thinks, “Really?”

MY first thoughts every morning are that I’m very tired, or my back or head aches, or that I slept far too long on my left side, which is a bad thing because of where my craniotomy is. No, my first thought usually isn’t how grateful I am.

I wish I could live each day to it’s fullest and feel grateful every day. Although I am one of the fortunate ones who still can, I need to work to pay the bills and secure good health insurance. I think more about those things. And I do more work than Carping that diem.

What I DO think about every day is brain aneurysms. How can I not? I think about my own aneurysms and the issues I still face. I think about the paths people’s lives, not just mine, have been forced to take as a result of brain aneurysms.

The parents who has lost a child. The husband who has lost a wife. The child who has lost a mother.  All of those people I have met and they are a part of my life now due to our shared experiences of losing a loved one to a brain aneurysm.

Brain aneurysm survivors are also a part of my life. We share a bond. We share our fears. We share our frustrations and scars with one another.

I’m not crazy about the month of October, so I’m always happy when I make it through the month. It’s VERY stressful at work in October and my family history has many sad occasions and memories that have happened in October. I suppose I should be grateful the month goes by in a snap…suddenly it’s November. It’s cold. All of the colorful leaves have fallen off the trees. One of these years, I WILL get to the mountains of Maine, stay in a hill-top cabin and view the fall foliage. Something I have yet to do since moving here in 2000.

September is the month when I FEEL the most grateful for being alive and being able to share my brain aneurysm story and help anyone I can. It’s the month chosen for our annual walk and run to honor the lives of two beautiful young women taken far too soon by ruptured brain aneurysms.

Then that pesky cynic within me thinks…I’m pretty sure no one I know would have organized a walk or run in MY honor. That’s how loved and adored these two young women were and how many friends they had. I couldn’t even get one person to visit me at home during both of my recovery periods….which were 6 and 3 months respectively. Yeah…I’m pretty sure I would have still remained just part of the statistics had I not survived. Which makes MY survival even more difficult to take. Why did these two young, vibrant, popular women have to die and I’m still here? I guess it’s to share my story and theirs. Lucky me? I’m grateful? Yeah…sometime’s it’s very difficult to feel that.

BEING grateful every day is a given in my case. If I wake up…yeah, that’s good! FEELING grateful is a whole other animal and it hits me at moments, rather than an every day thought.

I remember feeling grateful at the end of October when my devoted husband and I pulled into the driveway after two weeks in the hospital after my rupture in 2006. Although I wouldn’t return to work for another six months, it was a relief to be home. I was grateful to see the inside of the house I had come to love and to pet my kitty cats again.

I was overcome with emotion that following spring when I walked out to my garden for the first time and it hit me that things were starting to come alive again, as they do every year and that I was grateful, lucky, and blessed to be able to see my garden again. To smell the wet soil. Feel the wind on my face. Yes….I WAS grateful and very emotional as a result. It could have all ended in early October for me.

I feel grateful every September during our annual photograph of brain aneurysm survivors at the KAT-Walk & Karo-5k. I am grateful to be alive and to share this photo with other survivors from all over the state of Maine, New England and the country. I FEEL those moments tremendously.

It’s far too easy to assume someone who survived a life-threatening illness or medical emergency is grateful and lives each day to the fullest. Many don’t have the luxury to do so. Many have such horrible deficits that just living each hour is a struggle. Do they have time or the capacity to even THINK about being grateful? I doubt it.

Without even knowing it, I do believe I am grateful on a daily basis. I can rattle off a list of the things I am grateful for. It’s that seizing the day thing I still have to work on. I’m very tired.

 

Always There

At tonight’s brain aneurym support group meeting, I was reminded of the potential peril I may still be in.

My neurosurgeon/interventional radiologist gave a presentation about new treatments of cervix carotid artery brain aneurysms — aneurysms on the carotid artery in the neck. This was very relevant to one survivor in our group who has a 2nd aneurysm that is being watched right now in that sam area.

This report was originally given to neuro-medical doctors and was quite detailed with highly-medical terminology.  As explicit as it was, one was able to get the gist of it: they’re doing some pretty amazing things these days and saving lives.

The report was also funded by a research grant sponsored by our Maine Brain Aneurysm Awareness Committe, and Dr. Ecker explained how the money we gave was being used to purchase the detailed imagery needed for this paper. We are thrilled to be able to do it.

This presentation was about 30 minutes interspersed with questions from our group and Dr. Ecker giving us great explanations. Then a second, 10-15 minute presentation was given regarding his use of the pipeline procedure which is saving many, many lives and used more and more. I only wish it could be used with my case.

It was humbling of Dr. Ecker to admit that there are some aneurysms that are just trouble makers and that they can only do so much in some cases. Meaning, they’re still only human and one of their biggest challenges is the interaction between metallic fixtures and human biology with in the brain.

Some people just have such funky arteries due to vascular disease that the doctors can try and try to do everything they feel is right but due to the physical makeup of their arteries, it’s a challenge. I’m pretty sure I’m one of those challenges with my larger1st aneurysm.

Dr. Kwan, my doctor at the time in 2006, did the best he could at that time to fix my 1/2″ diameter brain aneurysm and save my life.  It worked…for five years until the 16 platinum coils inserted into the aneurysm started to compact and blood started to get back into the aneurysm.

Enter Dr. Ecker and the stent and four additional coils he added to my metal repertoire. This procedure went very well and everything looked great. Until more blood started getting into the neck of the aneurysm again and we are now watching it.

Because I already have a stent in that artery directing blood flow past the neck of the aneurysm, it’s highly unlikely and not recommended that using the pipeline will, or CAN be used to keep blood from getting back into the aneurysm.  And the research and reported procedures on putting a stent inside of another stent with similar conditions is non-existent. Hence…more waiting.

In the meantime, I live my life one day at the time hoping more blood isn’t getting into the neck and forming a bulge there that may, or may not rupture. I don’t have high blood pressure, I have never smoked, but I do have a highly stressful job for about 3-4 months of the year and I am not eating that great or exercising. From what I see, even if you ARE in great shape…if your arteries are “funky”, they’ll do what the want to – aneurysms really don’t discriminate.

Dr. Ecker and I have previously discussed options and they’re quite limited at the moment, but seeing the groundbreaking procedures that are being done in our very own state is giving me hope that a solution is in sight. I’d prefer NOT to be one of those challenges, but my arteries have other ideas.

I don’t think about it everyday, but certainly after a session like this, it’s the topmost thing on my mind and knowing there are doctors and a great staff here in the state of Maine is a comfort. I KNOW they’ll do their best and I KNOW they’ll give me the best advice and recommendations at their disposal. We are blessed to have such talented doctors in our state who are taking such good care of us. THANK YOU!

 

Brains R’ Us

Last Friday evening Dave and I represented the Maine Brain Aneurysm Awareness Committee at the Brain Fair presented by UNE Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences.

This fourth annual event, held at the Harold Alfond Forum at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine was a wonderful, interactive event for all ages.

Attendees were able to enjoy fun and engaging hands-on activities, presentations, and exhibits. They also found neuroanatomy displays, sheep brain dissections and microscope set-ups where they could observe a variety of microscopic brain pictures. There were also games for the kids and a “Protect The Egg” egg drop creating a fun and educational event for kids and adults alike.

Michael Birman, Ph.D., associate professor of neuroscience and faculty coordinator for the UNE Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences K-12 Outreach Program said it best when he explained, “We want to share with the public how amazing the brain is and how important it is to keep it safe. It’s so critical for every aspect of our life and yet also so fragile.”

Keeping the brain safe was also the highlighted message for the Michael T. Goulet Foundation and their bicycle helmet-fitting and brain injury prevention program. Michael Goulet died at the young age of 21 after suffering a brain injury at 13 and later seizures. His family has devoted their lives to increasing awareness, prevention and improved treatment for seizure disorders and brain injuries. It was wonderful to see so many children picking up new bike helmets and we are proud of our friendship with the Goulet Foundation.

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Many people stopped at our table and wanted to learn about brain aneurysms and several people had relatives who had suffered aneurysms. We were a little unprepared for the children who were there and their questions. While trying not to scare them, we wanted to give them honest answers and still give them something to learn and take away with them. Next time, we’ll come with something a little more fun for the kids.

Dave is much better at starting conversations at these types of events than I am. And I am NOT at my best late Friday afternoon and early evening after a full work week. My conversations had a lot of stops and starts and a lot of fighting to find the right words. Hopefully I made some sense to those in attendance.

As the crowd thinned out, Dave and I were able to wander around together and see the real stars of the show — BRAINS! And I mean REAL brains. They had about 10 human brains to view. Many were healthy brains, but about half of them had some kind of disease or malformation. One even had the full spinal chord attached. It was creepy, but cool.

We were truly fascinated to see the size of a real brain and see the inside of one. Also viewing the Circle of Willis, where the majority of brain aneurysms occur was riveting. My rupture was from that area. Once we told the doctor that was where my annie was, he pointed out that specific area.

One of the brains was from a person who had had a stroke. The damage done to the brain was visibly disturbing but fascinating and a scary indication of what can happen. A large area on the top of the brain was a dark gray color and had collapsed compared to the other side. We were told that person would have suffered disabilities on the other side of the body.

Another brain had a large segment of the dura around it, which is the protective covering of the brain. When a brain aneurysm ruptures, it’s the blood that gets caught between the brain and the dura where damage can occur. The dura is also cut and pulled back to reveal the arteries and brain during a craniotomy, which is what happened to me on my 2nd brain aneurysm. I was intrigued by this brain and the dura. Truly amazing how thin this covering was.

The brains represented here could be held comfortably in both hands. I’m not sure what I was expecting with regards to the size, but I thought it might be bigger. It was the size of the main arteries that really surprised me. The were much larger than I thought. And to think my first brain aneurysm, at almost 1/2″ in diameter, was sticking out of one of those…again…fascinating and scary.

The brain controls EVERYTHING we do. When it’s assaulted by blood and suffers injury, the time needed to recover and rebuild takes longer. It has to…it’s the motherboard for all of our circuits.